The Modern Way to Recruit Employees in Retail

15 min read

Many aspects of the retail industry have drastically changed over the past decade, and attracting, retaining, and managing a retail workforce is no exception. 

Your retail store or chain is undoubtedly recruiting for retail employees if you’ve reached this point. So read on for some valuable insights and tools to improve your recruiting strategy and increase your employee performance outcomes in today’s hyper-competitive retail industry.  

Table of Contents

  • Shifts in Modern Recruitment
  • Retail Hiring Challenges
  • Creating Your Recruitment Strategy
  • Unique Tips to Recruit Staff
  • Modern Recruitment Tools

The Shifts in Modern Recruitment

According to a 2022 McKinsey study, retail staff turnover is trending around 50% year-over-year, leaving retailers in a fierce competition for available talent. Historically low unemployment makes finding skilled and trainable staff difficult. Recruiting for retail employees and hiring skilled talent is a pressing issue for retailers of all sizes and specialties, but their HR pressures don’t end there. 

Effectively onboarding new hires, then keeping them motivated and engaged enough to stay with their employer is equally daunting. Retail employees and store managers are faced with pressures like:

  • Inflation and potential recession
  • Salary limitations
  • Disruptive new technologies like cashierless checkout
  • Increasing customer expectations
  • The evolution from separate in-store and online sales to omnichannel retail 

The retail and hospitality sector employs a significant and growing percentage of the North American workforce. The McKinsey study says in 2022, one out of five working Americans worked in retail or hospitality (16% are retail jobs per the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Statistics Canada reports that in 2022, nearly 23,000 Canadians worked in retail, up from 2,216,000 in 2018 and 22,353,000 in 2021. 

Retail Hiring Challenges for 2024

For decades, working in retail has been viewed as a temporary job for those training for careers in other industries, or as a temporary fallback during a career transition. That perception, combined with comparably lower salaries, and uncertain career advancement paths lead to lower engagement in retail stores, and higher turnover

The pandemic changed the way consumers do business with retailers. It also changed the priorities and expectations retail employees have for their experiences in the workplace. As many industries are adopting hybrid work models, retail employees are also seeking increased work-life balance, fair schedules and consideration of their well-being. 

The McKinsey survey of 1,000 US retail workers found 

  • 34% of respondents want more flexibility
  • 32% prioritize career development opportunities
  • 29% want better consideration of their health and wellness
  • 27% crave opportunities for more meaningful, impactful work

Here are some ways your business can attract these and other challenges. 

Increase Cost of Living = Increase in Labor Costs

Pandemic-related supply chain challenges, global conflict, and escalating fuel costs are only some of the factors driving up inflation. More than half of American frontline retail employees struggle to earn a living wage, and often find employment in other sectors. 

Those who remain are faced with customer complaints about price increases, and stores that are understaffed due to employee resignations or profit protection measures. 

Some jurisdictions are increasing minimum wage levels to motivate those who left the job market during the pandemic to fill jobs that have gone unfilled for months. 

29% of respondents to the McKinsey retailer survey said they are underpaid, don’t receive adequate financial incentives, health benefits or time off to motivate them to stay with their current employer. 49% were planning to leave their role within a few months. 

Many retail employees at retailers like Starbucks and PetSmart have held union drives to petition for better wages, benefits, and working conditions. Some of the largest retail chains like WalMart, REI, and Gap laid off employees in 2023. Others held on to employees longer than expected in what economists call labor hoarding to avoid the expense and resources involved with retraining and rehiring new staff. 

Employee Retention

Keeping retail employees and motivating them them to perform at their best:

  • Increases staff productivity and engagement
  • Reduces recruitment and onboarding costs
  • Enhances customer experiences
  • Enriches your team’s knowledge of your product mix

Increasing your retail company’s retention rate requires compromise and worker flexibility, but it can pay great dividends. Motivated employees often tell their friends, family and former colleagues when they feel they are being treated and compensated fairly, which can help your recruitment efforts in the long run. 

According to a Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA) study, younger employees have higher expectations of their employers. Their loyalty and trust can be won by retailers who give workers more control over their scheduling, work environment, well being and community engagement. These factors are recruitment motivators too, and effective deterrents against union drives. 

One way retailers can promote open shifts and available roles to local candidates is to register on Evolia’s shift map portal. Some retail workers can work for multiple, non-competing employers using this tool, and make strategic decisions about their commute ranges and scheduling their time.    

Out-dated Technology

We often hear about retail technology innovations like cashierless checkout, augmented reality customer experiences, and SMS “push marketing” messages when consumers walk by a store. Yet many retailers are still clinging to outdated legacy applications and systems to run their business, from their point of sale systems to their back-office inventory and operations software. 

Millennials and Gen Zers are accustomed to intuitive, mobile friendly business applications and sleek POS hardware. Clinging to old hardware and green-screen applications might reduce upgrade and migration costs. Yet younger, tech-savvy employees might seek alternative employment with retailers who are further along in their digital transformation journeys, where they can be more engaged with customers than trying to check inventory status on hot products in the weekly flyer.   

Old technology can also be problematic in terms of reliability and security. Any costs that might be avoided in sticking with existing devices and apps might pale in comparison to lost sales and customer frustration when a retail clerk can’t find a SKU or if a system is hacked. 

Recommended Reading: How to Schedule Employees Effectively

Creating Your Recruitment Strategy

The days of placing help wanted signs in the window and quickly scheduling interviews are dwindling. Many online job postings go unfilled for weeks, months, or longer because of low unemployment rates and candidates seeking employment in other industries. 

Today’s retailer needs to understand the mindset and priorities of their local talent pool. Many employment prospects care more about working for a company with strong environmental sustainability and governance policies than ever before.  

1. Identify Your Hiring Needs

Depending on your facilities product mix and the customers you serve, your staffing needs will vary accordingly. 

The lines between online shopping, ordering, and returns are blurring for many grocery, electronics, and big box retailers. In these scenarios, retailers may hire more staff with customer service and loyalty-building skills than sales-oriented teams.

On the other side of the coin, some retail stores are embracing in-store ecommerce. Many sales agents are providing well-rehearsed product presentations on big ticket items like cars, computers, appliances, or home furnishings. Then, they help the customer purchase the product online, along with any service plans, upgrades or add-ons. 

Retailers like Apple that leverage this kind of sales model can reduce the amount of inventory they need to store on-site, and can increase transaction value which would have been lost with a self-serve purchase at home. 

Aside from identifying the right mix of sales and customer service agents your business needs, you also need to define how many employees and leadership staff are required for:

  • Stocking shelves, receiving shipments and managing in-store inventory
  • Post-sale product delivery and set-up requirements, either in-store or at customers’ homes or places of business
  • Point of sale staff
  • Technology management and support
  • Departmental leaders, general managers and mid-level management
  • Janitorial or facilities management personnel for owned real estate

All of the roles listed above have specialized skill requirements. Planning for how to source employees from your local area, and how you can cultivate top performers within your organization. Some employees may be happy to work on a shift basis over the long term, while others can progress to leadership roles or into corporate retail roles. 

2. Create Hiring Goals Around Those Needs

Recruiting goals should be set with equal consideration and understanding of your: 

  • Existing client base;
  • Your existing employees;
  • Your accessible market territory;
  • The local talent pool of skilled and trainable candidates.

If you have a loyal client base with relationships with your existing staff, your goals may be to prioritize retaining employees and optimize same-store sales. The top 20% of your customers might account for 80% of your sales if you cater to business and consumer customers. Recruiting “farming”-minded sales people may be your goal. 

Or, maybe your business goals are geared towards maximizing average transaction values by cross-selling complementary products and services and reaching a broad consumer market. Recruiting transaction oriented salespeople that can present well, then cross-sell and close on value might be your goal. 

  1. Develop Job Descriptions and Map Internal Responsibilities

In many professions, candidates want a clear, concise, description of what their responsibilities would be should they accept a job offer, and how their performance would be measured. The job description messaging should reflect your company culture, and your ideal candidate’s conversational style. 

Writing, publishing, distributing and managing job descriptions over time may seem like an easy task. Yet for evolving retail businesses, there are many tasks which retail employees are doing as part of their day to day job which weren’t expected even a few years ago. For example, processing returns for online purchases. 

Job seekers, new hires and company veterans want their job descriptions to be documented in a clear and non-refutable way. Similarly many retail leaders want their team’s roles, responsibilities, accountabilities and dependencies to be documented. 

This helps them define their recruitment, onboarding, training and conflict resolution approaches effectively. This process can help with change management in the event of a merger or acquisition, and establish performance measurement standards for the business over time. 

4. Invest in the Right Tools

Implementing and running online tools for employee scheduling, time tracking and payroll are critical for businesses like retail stores where individuals and teams work on assigned shift rotations. These tools should be mobile-friendly, easy to use, and must enable employees to communicate with their colleagues and managers to ensure all of the retailer’s departments have adequate coverage. 

Recruiting platforms and applicant tracking systems help hiring managers to capture and maintain important information about local employment candidates. Access to these systems should only be granted to the hiring manager and human resources for privacy reasons. 

Most recruiting platforms prioritize skill set matches and work history. Evolia’s recruiting portal enables employees to apply to specific shift rotations as well as roles. Availability is critical when recruiting for retail – especially around the holiday season, the lead up to back to school, and on weekends. 

  1. Source, Interview and Filter Candidates

Tools like the Evolia shift map portal, applicant tracking systems and online job boards are some of the leading sources of candidate profiles. 

In many industries, employment candidates are assessed over a prolonged period of time and multiple interview rounds. In retail, entry to mid-level candidates should only be expected to endure one or two interview rounds, while managers are generally interviewed three times before a hiring decision is made. 

Many employment candidates have limited experience, references and behavioural interview questions are often the best indicators of how effectively a candidate would handle situations like disagreements with colleagues, recovering from mistakes, or difficult customers. As the saying goes, hire for attitude, train for skill. 

Some retail managers like to use “gotcha” questions to narrow the candidate field. Ones like “What is your greatest weakness?” or “Describe a situation where you lied to a customer, and I won’t take no for an answer”. Yet when prospects are hard to come by, eliminating candidates with mind tricks is risky business. 

6. Know When You’ve Found the Fit & Onboard

Ask yourself these questions: 

  1. Do you have a candidate that shows enthusiasm and expertise for your business and its product mix? 
  2. Can the candidate demonstrate effective communication skills, or do they have transferable skills from other roles in retail, or others like hospitality, technology, or any service occupation where customer interactions are critical for success? 
  3. Does the candidate have personality characteristics like curiosity, enthusiasm, empathy, charisma, tenacity, dependability and patience? Can you verify these traits through a personal or professional reference call? 
  4. Is the prospective employee’s personality, sense of humour, and personal aesthetic compatible with your existing team? 
  5. Can the candidate commit to working a regular shift rotation for which you need coverage, and be willing to work within the role’s total compensation band? 
  6. Can the candidate demonstrate an aptitude for learning, commitment to customer satisfaction, and have they expressed an ability to deliver on the duties described in the job description? 

These would all be strong signals you have a candidate that will fit in with your company culture, and should meet your performance expectations. 

Recommended Reading: The Ultimate Guide to 24/7 Schedules Your Workforce

Unique Tips and Ways to Recruit Staff

Use Social Media Influencers

Influencers on platforms like Tiktok, YouTube, Instagram and podcast platforms can help amplify your employer brand in your area. 

They don’t have to have millions of worldwide followers, they just need followers that are suitable employment candidates for your business. Or, the ability to insert themselves into online conversations where they can recommend your company as a great place to work. 

Your customers or your existing employees all have a digital footprint of some kind. They can be your best advocates because they have first-hand experiences with your company. 

Collaborate with Other Relevant Businesses

Connecting with other local, non-competing businesses and sharing local talent resources can be a great way of filling gaps in your shifts. Orchestrating shift schedules to allow workers to work for relevant businesses can help your team enrich their skillset and gain valuable resume experience. 

Informal partnerships and open lines of communication can also create candidate referral opportunities, and help meet their employee interests in community engagement. 

Think About The Candidate/Employee’s Career Path

Many retail employees are just starting their careers, and retailers should recognize a candidate or employee’s value beyond the time they work in their store. Prospective employees may not be a fit today, though they may earn relevant experience elsewhere and become an ideal candidate down the road. Once they leave your team, they also have a valuable network of friends and colleagues that they can refer to take their place, or to fill other roles in your company. 

Post Shifts, Not Jobs

Say goodbye to traditional job postings. With Evolia, you can instantly notify our extensive talent pool, including thousands of eager workers from neighbouring businesses. This ensures you schedule individuals genuinely excited about their roles, enhancing both business efficiency and the customer experience.

This modern approach ensures you have the talent you need, when you need it.

How to Use Modern Recruitment Tools

All of your competitors’ logos are on Evolia’s online shift map…why isn’t your business offering up shifts to job seekers there yet? 

Here is how to easily set up an Evolia account to begin finding shift workers for your open positions, in less than a few minutes of your time.

Step 1: Visit the main shifts page

Navigate to the job board home page to see the main shift map and jobs available for shift workers. 

Step 2: Register Your Business For Free

Click on the “Register my business” button to sign up to Evolia, for free.

Step 3: Complete Registration

Complete these simple 5 steps to create your free Evolia account in less than a few minutes.

Step 4: Post Shifts and Find Talent

Start posting your shifts and connect with the thousands of local candidates who are actively “shift shopping” on Evolia.

Recruit Effectively with Evolia

One-Click Posting & Increased Visibility

Simplify your shift assignment process with a single click. Posting a shift becomes a seamless part of your workflow. With each additional shift posting, your likelihood of discovering the ideal candidate improves. Evolia’s platform garners more attention from external candidates, boosting your visibility.

New Resources Under One Roof

Manage your entire recruitment process within the platform you’re already familiar with, keeping everything centralized. After hiring, easily assign your new recruit to their preferred shift with a simple click. If necessary, include them in an extra training shift to ensure readiness.

Enable employee mobility across business units, ensuring all shifts are covered, and enhancing internal mobility with fallback rules for maximum contributions.

Get started and sign up for Evolia for Free! 

Final Thoughts

Talent is hard to come by for retailers across North America, and around the world. High employee turnover rates in the 50% range seem destined to be a reality unless there are drastic industry changes. 

Making incremental changes in your business like upgrading your in-store technology, adopting new recruiting tools and adopting some or all of the tips in this guide can help your business survive and thrive. 

Customers like to do business with people they can get to know, like, and trust. Prioritize hiring candidates with positive attitudes, empathy, and accountability. You can always train for product knowledge and sales methods during the onboarding process

Take your first, free step on your recruiting for retail journey registering for Evolia’s online shift map and recruiting tool


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